WASHINGTON — Turkey prices are skyrocketing this Thanksgiving, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As food prices help push inflation to its highest level in 40 years, Americans are feeling the heat in grocery stores and at family dinners. It is in this context that Congress is set to consider another farm bill, a massive bill that would be essential to ending hunger in America with farm subsidies and food stamps. Good luck with that. Government subsidies and handouts are not the way to increase food abundance. Rather, this happy ending requires innovation and entrepreneurial creativity.
There is something infuriating in the belief that food production would be more plentiful and efficient – and the results healthier and cheaper – with even more subsidies for relatively well-off farmers and agribusinesses. Indeed, there is ample evidence that agricultural subsidies stifle innovation, make producers less competitive, reduce incentives to increase efficiency and use less water and pesticides, and shift the focus away from agricultural crops. to seek grants. As a result, many farmers end up doing less with more, and people end up paying more for less.
To add insult to injury, agricultural subsidies often lead to overproduction, which, in theory, should reduce the price of agricultural products and reduce farmers’ profits. That is, if the government did not appease this powerful lobby by buying up its excess production. In other words, taxpayers pay for the grants or loan guarantees, then the resulting surplus production, then the storage.
Never mind these distortions, however, because the biggest expense on the farm bill is on food stamps. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that those taxpayer dollars would go a lot further towards feeding poor families if farm subsidies hadn’t raised the price of that food in the first place. After years of food subsidies and changes in food stamp eligibility, about 40 million Americans will benefit from a $140 billion budget this fiscal year.
Although putting more and more food stamps in people’s pockets may reduce food insecurity for some, the program suffers from serious shortcomings, including reducing incentives to work for most of the population. age and reducing income mobility. These shortcomings are significant obstacles in the fight against child poverty, since the employment of low-income parents is at the root of much of its long-term decline.
It’s time for a new approach to tackling food insecurity. Let’s do it through genuine food abundance, not subsidies.
True abundance will be achieved by radical innovation in agricultural technology deployed to produce food efficiently and cheaply. It’s hard to say what the details will be; the nature of innovation is such that the future cannot be accurately predicted. But if the government steps aside, innovators will indeed, as they have done in the past, reinvent what we eat and how we create our food to meet growing demand and feed more people.
With vertical and urban farming, imagine growing all of our food in 50-story vertical farms in every major urban area, controlling the growth cycle, reducing transportation costs, and increasing the freshness of the food we eat. Add to that genetically modified foods that produce more predictable, more nutritious, faster, and cheaper foods than traditional breeding methods, and the possibilities are endless. Lab-grown meat and other types of milk can appeal to Americans who care about animal welfare and the environment while helping people around the world who live in land- and water-scarce countries.
Innovation can also improve aquaculture which has been blamed for huge carbon footprints and overuse of antibiotics. The international shrimp industry is infamous for its negative impact on the environment and even for the use of slave labor. But this problem could be solved by artificial cultivation. Soon there may be a lobster in every trap, even for the poorest among us.
Food innovation will not only change the way we produce food. Nanotechnology may soon reduce food waste and increase its safety in ways that our overlords of food regulation could never offer. Innovations in food packaging are expected, including edible packaging made from food-grade polymers such as seaweed and other biodegradable packaging.
Although these innovations are not yet ready for prime time, I am confident in their ability to reduce food insecurity faster and better than the billions of dollars in subsidies the government is about to provide can. next year and in the years to come.
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Véronique de Rugy is the George Gibbs Chair in Political Economy and Senior Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. To learn more about Véronique de Rugy and to read articles by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.